The One That Got Away: Love on a Dishtowel

A hardworking, conscientious girl. A boy with a massive crush. The sweet story of young love. How do you capture that in a few stitches?

It can be done—just look at these funny towels!

A great many vintage items pass through my hands, as I poke around garage sales and thrift shops and as others scavenge for me, as well.

I can’t keep everything, of course, so I sell a lot of what I find and keep only what I consider to be really special.

But sometimes I don’t realize a thing is special until it’s gone. Absence, it seems, really can make the heart grow fonder.

Such is the case with these adorable towels.

My mother picked these up for me, at a bargain price, from a white elephant sale—one look told her they were not to be left behind.

These three towels were probably originally part of a set of 6 or 7 “day of the week” towels, each depicting a housekeeping chore assigned to a different day of the week.

Towels like these were popular in the 1940 and ‘50s and many iron-on patterns were sold, so a person could make her own set according to her tastes.

Of all the many sets I’ve seen, this is one of my very favorites.

I love these towels for the craftsmanship and the details that are included—just look at the boy’s tiny spurs and bandana and the fringe on the girl’s split skirt!IMG_2652

But I love them even more for the narrative contained in them, the story between the boy and girl that we’re invited to participate in. It’s that age-old story of puppy love!

Some people might look at these towels and say they simply reinforce negative, outdated gender stereotypes—a boy bringing a girl his mending and ironing, while he dawdles around, getting in the way.

All I can see, though, is the sweetness. He fills his 10-gallon hat with mending and she throws her hand to her head and says, “Oh! The things I do for you!”IMG_2645

He takes a broom and offers to help with the cleaning, but it’s only a ruse to stand by and moon over the object of his affections. And she, playing hard to get, turns her back and pretends she doesn’t know the turmoil he’s experiencing.IMG_2654

She tries to iron and he shows off for her, trying to impress her with his skills with a lariat. You can almost hear her saying, “Get away, I have work to do!,” while she secretly loves every moment.IMG_2666

It’s all here—drama, emotion, whimsy, the human story. And it’s an ongoing story, developing over the days, as their clothes change in every setting.

I also can’t help but wonder, when I think of these towels, about the loving hands that did the careful stitching. Was the maker a young woman, stitching a romantic story and hoping it would materialize in her life? Was she a new wife, feathering her nest and honoring the thrill of a recent courtship? Or was the maker a care-worn housewife, reliving the sweet memories of what she felt when she first met her husband?

For this little cowgirl and cowboy, the moment never passes, the bloom never leaves the flower of first love.

I hope the new owner of these towels loves them and the story they tell!

If It’s Thursday, It Must Be Market Day

coffee potDo you do your household chores on a schedule, taking care of one big job on a specific day every week? Oh, to be so organized!

It may not work for me, but, traditionally, American homemakers did seem to have set-aside days for the major chores of their week. Of course, meals had to be cooked and dishes done and beds made every day, but some chores could be handled less often.

According to American author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, the chores in her day were set on this schedule. Ingalls Wilder chronicled her family’s pioneer life in a series of books, the most famous of which was Little House on the Prairie. In Little House in the Big Woods, she wrote:

Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday,
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday,
Rest on Sunday.

The more pervasive list, which substitutes “market day” for the very rural “churning day” is this one:

  • Monday – Washing
  • Tuesday – Ironing
  • Wednesday – Mending
  • Thursday – Marketing
  • Friday – Baking
  • Saturday – Cleaning
  • Sunday – Day of Rest

Out of this “day of the week” schedule grew another tradition—the making of “day of the week” (DOTW) towels.

These towel sets were usually embroidered by “loving hands at home”—one towel for each day, one towel for each chore. Sometimes the sets include seven towels, with one designated for Sunday as a day of rest or church, while other sets include only six towels, presumably because, if Sunday was really a day of rest, a towel would not be needed.sunday

As a lover of vintage linens, I can tell you that there were dozens, if not hundreds, of DOTW designs, sold as iron-on transfers, that women could choose among to make their set of towels.

The towels were often created from recycled feedsacks, the cotton of which was highly absorbent and lint free. And you thought “upcycling” was a 21st century phenomenon!

Many of the DOTW patterns were very cutesy. Puppies, kittens, snails, piggies, and duckies abound on the towels.

puppiesThe ubiquitous Sunbonnet Sue makes many, many appearances (after all, that’s what ubiquitous means!)

sunbonnetMany patterns that would now be considered in poor taste were available, too. A recent search on eBay produced towel sets of stereotypical African-American women, Native Americans, and Mexicans with sombreros, all doing their chores.

If you like vintage DOTW towels, they are readily available on eBay and Etsy. You can even buy unused iron-on transfers and make your own. Single day towels of puppies and kittens are inexpensive, full sets of more unusual design are more expensive.

Some of the favorites I’ve run across in my years of collecting are these:

cowgirl mending cowgirl dustingI love these cowgirl towels because of the incredible detail in the embroidery and the fact that the scenes include the flirtatious cowboy as well.

girl cleaning girl restingThese towels have a sweet little miss who is much more authentic than that pesky Sunbonnet Sue. And she has a fashion sense!

printed bakingI love the bold graphics on this printed set. The scenes are not so “old-timey” and cutesy but there is a cat in every one!


And these are my favorites, a set I’m sorry I sold. They’re done with wonderful, detailed appliqué and embroidery, they have a more modern vibe, and they include two chores I love—gardening and serving cocktails!

Now, let’s hear from you! Do you set aside days for your chores or are you just glad to fit them in whenever you can? Did your older relatives have a schedule? Is this an American thing or did your culture have similar traditions?

And, most important, will you be making your own set of towels now? I’d love to make a modern set. Monday is Blog Day, Tuesday is Listing on Etsy Day, Wednesday is Going Out to Lunch and Having a Beer Day . . .